Addressing student behavior isn’t always a one-size-fits-all solution, Lewisville ISD administrators say.
So they hope a new approach yields positive results.
During a work session Tuesday the LISD Board of Trustees was updated on its restorative practices initiative, which it began in 2018.
Restorative practices take alternative methods to handling students with behavior issues instead of relying solely on traditional discipline measures.
Rebecca Clark, director of student services, said a major piece to restorative practices is establishing relationships with students that don’t usually occur with discipline methods.
“The key priority for restorative practices when we think about it is building and maintaining positive relationships and repairing those relationships when harm is done,” Clark said. “An approach to restorative practices that focuses only on discipline keeps all that emphasis on the relationship between administrators and students. But the most powerful relationships a student should have at school are with those teachers with whom they spend all day every day.”
Clark said restorative practices, which the Texas Education Agency has supported since 2015, are expected to improve classroom behavior, reduce loss of instructional time, address discipline disproportionality and reduce recidivism.
Jeffrey Kajs, chief executive director of student support services, pointed to a study that states ineffective teachers had five times as many disruptive events in an hour compared to more productive teachers.
“Over-referring students to the office can weaken a teacher’s influence in the classroom,” Kajs said.
Some of the strategies used include teaching students how to apologize, focusing on who the student impacted and how he/she can fix the problem.
“It is amazing how many of our students don’t really grasp how to make a genuine apology,” Clark said. “Or even understand why that’s important.”
Restitution, or how to make the problem right, is another strategy, as are peer mediation, a community service, an action plan to resolve conflict and skill deficit lessons.
“If we recognize that a student doesn’t have the skills to cope in a certain situation we have to build that skill up,” Clark said. “We have to close that deficit.”
Clark also noted the ADAPT program where school counselors meet with families after hours for three weeks. Students are grouped together and learn about choices and responsibility, and parents learn things such as setting boundaries.
Trustee Angie Cox said she supports ADAPT after observing it firsthand.
“You truly saw parent and student transformation happening,” Cox said.
Clark said numbers show the effort is helping. Clark said from 2016 to 2019 the number of students who had five or more out-of-placement actions was steady, above 600 per year. She said that dropped in 2020 to more than 400.
She said while the COVID-19 lockdown played a part in that, she said quarterly averages were also down.
The district surveyed teachers on the impact of the restorative practices.
The majority of teachers agreed restorative practices have allowed them to develop positive relationships with students.
The majority of teachers also said restorative practices increased student engagement, especially at the elementary school level. Approximately 80 percent of the teachers noted improved behavior as a result of restorative practices.
While Clark explained what restorative practices is, she also reminded the board of misconceptions of the initiative.
“This is not a substitute for traditional discipline,” Clark said. “It should not be viewed as a soft approach to misbehavior problems.”
She said it’s a mindset of how educators work with students.
“There’s also a misconception that this is for certain students from certain backgrounds or certain schools, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Clark said. “Every student in our district can benefit from this approach in our classrooms.”
Teachers, counselors, administrators and sometimes in-school suspension aides are trained on building relationships in the classroom.
Superintendent Kevin Rogers said 41 campuses in LISD have been trained up to this point. The first training cohort began in 2018-19 with 22 schools, and 19 were added in 2019-20. Between 18 and 20 are planned for the next school year. Clark said the goal is to have all campuses trained by 2022-23.
Ultimately, Clark said, each campus will have a team of restorative practices leaders to promote the efforts.
“We’re committed to the idea that traditional discipline is and always will be part of our classroom,” Clark said. “But what we have to acknowledge is that traditional discipline alone is not working at improving behavior in some of our students.”